Changes in per capita alcohol sales during the partial privatization of British Columbia's retail alcohol monopoly 2003–2008: a multi-level local area analysis


Tim Stockwell, Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia, University Victoria, PO Box 1700 STN CSC, Victoria, BCV8Y 2E4, Canada. E-mail:


Aim  To investigate the independent effects on liquor sales of an increase in (a) the density of liquor outlets and (b) the proportion of liquor stores in private rather than government ownership in British Columbia between 2003/4 and 2007/8.

Design  The British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch provided data on litres of ethanol sold through different types of outlets in 89 local health areas of the province by beverage type. Multi-level regression models were used to examine the relationship between per capita alcohol sales and outlet densities for different types of liquor outlet after adjusting for potential confounding social, economic and demographic factors as well as spatial and temporal autocorrelation.

Setting  Liquor outlets in 89 local health areas of British Columbia, Canada.

Findings  The number of private stores per 10 000 residents was associated significantly and positively with per capita sales of ethanol in beer, coolers, spirits and wine, while the reverse held for government liquor stores. Significant positive effects were also identified for the number of bars and restaurants per head of population. The percentage of liquor stores in private versus government ownership was also associated significantly with per capita alcohol sales when controlling for density of liquor stores and of on-premise outlets (P < 0.01).

Conclusion  The trend towards privatisation of liquor outlets between 2003/04 and 2007/08 in British Columbia has contributed to increased per capita sales of alcohol and hence possibly also to increased alcohol-related harm.